Freshwater pearl mussels and licensing

Scottish Natural Heritage can license certain activities that would otherwise constitute an offence against freshwater pearl mussels.

The freshwater pearl mussel is one of UK’s most threatened species – and Scotland holds almost half the global population of the species. It is a fully protected invertebrate species.

Freshwater pearl mussel is a wildlife crime priority, as illegal pearl fishing is decimating populations.

Surveys and research

You should apply to us for a licence if you wish to survey for freshwater pearl mussels by:

  • carefully walking stretches of river with a clear-bottomed bucket to look for animals on the river bed
  • gently lifting individuals from the river bed and measuring them to work out their rough age, to get a better idea of a population’s health

We only grant survey licences to experienced and suitably trained individuals.

To apply for a licence to survey for freshwater pearl mussels, fill in the application form and email it to

Download the Licence application form – freshwater pearl mussel survey

Download the Freshwater pearl mussel survey guidance

Social, economic or environmental purposes

We can license activities for social, economic or environmental reasons (including development) that might affect freshwater pearl mussels, as long as:

  • the licensed activity will contribute to significant social, economic or environmental benefit
  • there is no satisfactory alternative

Read the guidance on Licences for social, economic or environmental purposes

Read the guidance on Test 2 – No satisfactory alternative

If freshwater pearl mussels are likely to be present on or near to a site, we strongly recommend that a suitably experienced person conducts a survey. Where any mussels are found, a species protection plan should be drawn up.

To apply for a licence to work with freshwater pearl mussel for social, economic or environmental reasons, email

You should include in your email:

If this is your first licence application for this activity, we’ll need two references from you. Your referees should be familiar with your work in this area and able to vouch for your competence.

Possession of freshwater pearl mussels or their pearls

It is illegal to:

  • possess freshwater pearl mussels or pearls collected since 1998 – when the law was changed to give the species further protection
  • sell, or advertise for sale, Scottish freshwater pearl mussels or their pearls unless done so under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage

To apply for a licence to sell pieces of jewellery set with Scottish freshwater pearls collected legally (i.e. before 1998), email

Again, you should include in your email:

  • your name, address and telephone number
  • a full description and photograph of the piece of jewellery you wish to sell
  • tell us how you will sell the jewellery if a licence is granted
  • full details of your project – covering what and who will be involved, and where and when
  • a completed licence application reference form (if applicable)

Licence changes and renewals

You should get in touch if you wish to amend a licence. But check your licence conditions first: you may be able to appoint agents and assistants without having to get them named on your licence.

Find out about adding persons to a licence.

You must also remember to contact us to renew your licence. Licences aren’t renewed automatically.


If you already have a licence number, include it in the subject line of your email, or have it to hand when you call.

Licensing Team
Telephone: 01463 725 364

Find out more

Data Protection notice

Accompanying notes for survey and monitoring licences